Essential Architecture-  Berlin

Potsdamer Platz




Potsdamer Platz








Outdoor space
Erich Mendelsohn's Columbushaus
  Palast Hotel 1899 and 1945
  The famous Sony Center At Night
Potsdamer Platz

Roof of "Sony Center".Potsdamer Platz is an important square and traffic intersection in the center of Berlin, Germany, about 1 km south of the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) and the Reichstag (German Parliament Building). It is named after the city of Potsdam, some 25 km to the south west, and marks the point where the old road from Potsdam passed through the city wall of Berlin at the Potsdam Gate (Potsdamer Tor).

The heyday of Potsdamer Platz was in the 1920s and 1930s. By this time it had developed into the busiest traffic center in all of Europe. Together with the Alexanderplatz, 2 km to the east, it was at the heart of Berlin's nightlife. Potsdamer Platz however represented the geographical centre of the city, the meeting place of five of its busiest streets in a star-shaped intersection deemed the transport hub of the continent. These were:

Königgrätzer Straße (northern portion), leading north to the Brandenburg Gate, now called Ebertstraße (in the Nazi period it was renamed Hermann Göring Straße).
Leipziger Straße, leading east.
Königgrätzer Straße (southern portion), actually leading mainly south east, now called Stresemannstraße (in the Nazi period it was called Saarland Straße).
Potsdamer Straße, developed out of that old road to Potsdam, leading south west, now called Alte Potsdamer Straße (today a pedestrianised cul-de-sac, superseded by a new section - the Neue Potsdamer Straße, leading due west and then curving southwards to rejoin its old course at the Potsdamer Brücke (Potsdam Bridge), over the Landwehrkanal).
Bellevuestraße, leading north west through the Tiergarten to Schloss Bellevue.
In the immediate area were hundreds of shops, hotels, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, dance-halls, cafes, bars, wine-houses and clubs, many of them internationally known. One of the world’s biggest and most luxurious department stores (Wertheim), was sited here, together with a huge multi-national-themed eating establishment (the Haus Vaterland), that could hold 8,000 people, and containing the world’s largest restaurant, which could seat 2,500 on its own. A major railway terminus (the Potsdamer Bahnhof), handling up to 80,000 passengers a day, was also close by, with Europe’s busiest interchange of surface and underground rail lines. 600 trams also passed through every hour, running on 40 different routes.

It is widely claimed (though this is subject to some disagreement), that the world's first electric street lights were installed here in 1882. What is not refuted is that Europe's first traffic lights were erected here in 1924 in an attempt to control the sheer volume of traffic passing through. These lights were mounted on a five-sided 8.5 metre high tower, at the top of which a policeman sat in a small cabin and switched the lights manually, though they were automated after a few years (a replica of this tower was erected in the late 1990s close to its original location).

In 1923 Germany's first ever radio broadcast was made from a building (Vox-Haus) close by in Potsdamer Straße.

World War II and Cold War
As was the case in most of Berlin, almost all of the buildings around Potsdamer Platz were turned to rubble by air raids and heavy artillery bombardment during the last years of World War II. Things were not helped by the close proximity of Adolf Hitler's enormous new Reich Chancellery building (just one block away in Voßstraße), and many other Nazi government edifices nearby as well, and so Potsdamer Platz was right in a major target area.

When the city was divided into sectors by the occupying Allies at the end of the war, the square found itself on the boundary between the American, British, and Soviet sectors.

As Cold War tensions rose during the 1950s, restrictions were placed on travel between the Soviet sector (East Berlin) and the western sectors (West Berlin). Lying on this invisible frontier, Potsdamer Platz was no longer an important destination for Berliners.

With the construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961 along this intracity frontier, Potsdamer Platz found itself divided in two. What had once been a busy intersection had become desolate. With the clearance of ruined buildings on both sides (on the eastern side, this was done chiefly to give border guards a clear view of would-be escapees and an uninterrupted line of fire), almost nothing was left in an area of dozens of hectares.

After the Wall
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, ex-Pink Floyd member Roger Waters staged a gigantic charity concert of his former band's rock extravaganza The Wall on July 21, 1990 to commemorate the end of the division between East and West Germany. The concert took place on the then-empty Potsdamer Platz and featured many guest superstars.

After 1990, the square became the focus of attention again, since it was an attractive location suddenly near the center of the city. The city government chose to divide the area into four parts, each to be sold to a commercial investor, which then planned new construction. During the building-phase the Potsdamer Platz was the largest building site in Europe.

The largest of these four parts went to Daimler-Benz, now part of Daimler-Chrysler, who charged Renzo Piano with creating a master plan for the new construction. The individual buildings were then built by many individual architects according to that plan. This includes the remarkable Potsdamer Platz No. 1 by Hans Kollhoff, now home to a number of prestigious law firms (in the photo on the right, the tall brick building in the center).

Potsdamer Platz (June 2003)The second largest part went to Sony, which erected its new European headquarters there. This new Sony Center by Helmut Jahn, an impressive, yet light monolith of glass and steel (the rightmost building in the picture on the right), is considered by many to be one of the finest pieces of modern architecture in Berlin.

Potsdamer Platz (October 2005)The whole project was the subject of much criticism from the beginning, and still not everyone applauds how the district was commercialized and replanned. However, the plaza now attracts about 70,000 visitors a day, and many critics are surprised by the success of the new quarter. At almost any time of the day, the place is packed with people. It has become a must-see for visitors, a top shopping area for Berliners, and probably the number-one spot to go for film fans, with more than 40 screens in three cinemas, a film academy and a film museum.

Some scenes of the 1987 Wim Wenders movie Der Himmel über Berlin (English title: Wings of Desire) are located on the old, almost entirely void Potsdamer Platz before the Wall fell. The movie thus gives a good impression of the surroundings at the time, which are completely unlike what can be seen today.


New buildings have mushroomed on Potsdamer Platz and the adjacent octagonal Leipziger Platz, restoring the original shape of the squares that had disappeared for decades, buried under border installations.

In the 1920s, Potsdamer Platz ranked as one of the busiest traffic junctions in the world thanks not least to the presence of Potsdam Station, which was located roughly where the semi-circular front of the Potsdamer Platz Kolonnaden stands today. A replica of the first set of traffic lights in Berlin dating back to 1924 recalls the busy past here. It was installed in 1997.

The buildings in this area were badly damaged in the war. During the popular uprising of 17th June 1953, the relatively unscathed Columbus Building, originally constructed to designs by architect Erich Mendelsohn in 1927, was set on fire. The Vaterland Building erected by Franz Schwechten in 1912 was damaged at the same time, the remains of which were demolished in 1976.

After the building of the Wall, the "vanished" Potsdamer Platz soon became a tourist attraction. A viewing platform on the west side enabled people to see what was happening across the border.

On 11th November 1989, just two days after the first breach in the Wall, a provisional crossing point was set up at Potsdamer Platz.

The DaimlerChrysler precinct was the first new development project to be completed on Potsdamer Platz in 1998. The Sony Center followed suit in 2000. The Park-Kolonnaden and the Beisheim Center with the new Ritz Carlton hotel were completed in the years thereafter.

The Leipziger Platz octagon is beginning to take shape. The red Info Box on the square was dismantled in January 2001 and by November 2002, the square itself had been planted with grassy lawns and trees. New structures such as the Canadian Embassy and the office buildings on the southeastern corner already give a glimpse of its future shape.

A few segments of the hinterland Wall on Leipziger Platz triggered a controversial debate at the turn of the millennium, as they stood in the way of development plans for the area. The Berlin Senate decided to donate three of them to the United Nations, which were subsequently installed outside the UN building in New York. The remaining segments and the watch-tower were listed as historical monuments in August 2001. The tower has been transferred eight metres to the east.